by VS Nelson
Origins of Easter
The exact origins of this religious feast day’s name Easter are unknown to most individuals. Some sources claim the word Easter is derived from Eostre, a Teutonic Goddess of spring and fertility. She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similarly, the “Teutonic Dawn Goddess of fertility known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos.” Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: “eastre.” Similar Goddesses were known by other names in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean, and were celebrated in the springtime. Some were: Aphrodite, named Cytherea (Lady of Cythera) and Cypris (Lady of Cyprus) after the two places which claimed her birth; Ashtoreth from ancient Israel; Astarte from ancient Greece; Demeter from Mycenae; Hathor from ancient Egypt; Ishtar from Assyria; Kali, from India; and Ostara a Norse Goddess of fertility.
Other accounts trace Easter to the Latin term hebdomada alba, or white week, an ancient reference to Easter week and the white clothing donned by people who were baptized during that time. Through a translation error, the term later appeared as esostarum in Old High German, which eventually became Easter in English. In Spanish, Easter is known as Pascua; in French, Paques. These words are derived from the Greek and Latin Pascha or Pasch, for Passover. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection occurred after he went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover (or Pesach in Hebrew), the Jewish festival commemorating the ancient Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. Pascha eventually came to mean Easter.
There are two popular beliefs about the origin of the English word “Sunday,” which Easter is celebrated on. It is derived from the name of the Scandinavian sun Goddess Sunna (a.k.a. Sunne, Frau Sonne) It is derived from “Sol,” the Roman God of the Sun.” Their phrase “Dies Solis” means “day of the Sun.” The Christian Saint Jerome (d. 420 CE) commented: “If it is called the day of the sun by the pagans, we willingly accept this name, for on this day the Light of the world arose, on this day the Sun of Justice shone forth.”
Today Easter, which celebrates Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, is Christianity’s most important holiday. It has been called a moveable feast because it doesn’t fall on a set date every year, as most holidays do. Instead, Christian churches in the West celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the full moon after the Vernal Equinox on March 21. Therefore, Easter can be observed anywhere between March 22 and April 25 every year. Orthodox Christians use the Julian calendar to calculate when Easter will occur and typically celebrate the holiday a week or two after the Western churches, which follow the Gregorian calendar.
Easter is really an entire season of the Christian church year, as opposed to a single-day observance. Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter Sunday, is a time of reflection and penance and represents the 40 days that Jesus spent alone in the wilderness before starting his ministry, a time in which Christians believe he survived various temptations by the devil. The day before Lent, known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday by the French or those who live in Louisiana. It is a last hurrah of food and fun before the fasting begins.
The week preceding Easter is called the Holy Week and includes Maundy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus’ last supper with his disciples; Good Friday, which honors the day of his crucifixion; and Holy Saturday, which focuses on the transition between the crucifixion and resurrection.
The 50-day period following Easter Sunday is called Eastertide and includes a celebration of Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
In addition to Easter’s religious significance, it also has a commercial side, as evidenced by the mounds of jelly beans and marshmallow chicks that appear in stores each spring.
Regardless how you celebrate your Easter holiday period I hope you have learned something in this little article. I also wish the great tiding upon you during this special time of year.
(Article compiled from several previously written publications 1972-1985)